Vision Zero: Making pedestrian safety a public priority
The following is a repost from Better Cities and Towns - better places, stronger communities.
New York and other cities confront the critical problem of pedestrian fatalities.
Jay Walljasper, Better Cities & Towns
|Pedestrians on Route 1 in Virginia. Credit: Cheryl Cort|
More than 4500 pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles every year on the streets of America—more than those who died in the horror of 9/11.
A recent report from the National Complete Streets Coalition studying ten years of data found that 16 times more people were killed crossing the street than in natural disasters over the that same period. Another 68,000 walkers on average are injured every year. The victims are disproportionately children, seniors and people of color, according to the report.
This pedestrian safety crisis is even more dire internationally. More than 270,000 people are killed while walking every year—22 percent of a total 1.24 million traffic fatalities, according to the World Health Organization.
“It’s like an airplane falling out of the sky every other day. If that actually happened, the whole system would be ground to a halt until the problem was fixed,” notes Scott Bricker, Executive Director of America Walks, a coalition of walking advocacy groups. “We need to address this terrible problem with the same urgency.”
Unfortunately, pedestrian deaths (and all traffic fatalities) are viewed as an inevitable side effect of modern life. “People accept this as normal, just as 100 years ago most people accepted that women could not vote,” observes Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of 8-80 Cities, an international organization working to make streets safe for people of all ages.
Yet recent history offers genuine hope for making our streets safer. A generation ago domestic abuse and drunk driving were seen as sad, unalterable facts of human nature. But vigorous public campaigns to prevent these tragedies have shown remarkable results, offering clear evidence that destructive human behavior can be curbed when we put our minds to it.
Sweden paves the way
Campaigns to reduce pedestrian, bicyclist and motorist deaths to zero are now taking shape around the country from Philadelphia to Chicago to Oregon.
This new safety strategy, called Vision Zero, is modeled on successful efforts in Sweden, where overall traffic deaths have been cut in half since 2000—making Swedish streets the safest in the world according to a front page story in The New York Times. Pedestrian deaths in the country have also plunged 50 percent since 2009.
The Economist magazine reports that Sweden accomplished all this by emphasizing safety over speed in road design. The influential conservative newsweekly cites improved crosswalks, lowered urban speed limits, pedestrian zones, barriers separating cars from bikes and pedestrians, and narrowing streets for the impressive drop in traffic deaths.
Sweden takes a far different approach than conventional transportation planning, where “road users are held responsible for their own safety” according to the websiteVision Zero Initiative. Swedish policy by contrast believes that to save lives, roads must anticipate driver, bicyclist and walker errors, “based on the simple fact that we are human and we make mistakes.” This is similar to the Netherlands’ policy of Forgiving Roads, which has reduced traffic fatalities by 75 percent since the 1970s, compared to less than a 20 percent reduction in the US over the same period.
Three US states that adopted aggressive measures to cut traffic deaths similar to Vision Zero—Utah, Minnesota and Washington—all have seen traffic fatalities decline by 40 percent or more, 25 percent better than the national average.
Streets of New York
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio won office last year on the promise of reducing traffic deaths in a city where someone is killed or seriously injured by a motor vehicle every two hours on average.
“The fundamental message of Vision Zero is that death and injury on city streets is not acceptable, and that we will no longer regard serious crashes as inevitable,” he wrote in a letter to New Yorkers… “They happen to people who drive and to those who bike, but overwhelmingly, the deadly toll is highest for pedestrians—especially our children and seniors.” Traffic accidents are the largest preventable cause of death for children under 14 in New York, and the second highest source of fatal injuries for people over 65.
In May New York’s City Council passed 11 bills and six resolutions to implement de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan across many city departments, including:
• Increased police enforcement for speeding, failure to yield to pedestrians and dangerous driving;
• A campaign in the state legislature to allow the city to lower speed limits to 25 mph (and 20 mph on some streets), which passed in June;
• Safety improvements such as traffic calming, speed cameras, and “slow zones” on streets;
• Stricter scrutiny of taxi drivers’ safety records;
• Street safety curriculum in schools; and
• Creation of a permanent Vision Zero Task Force at City Hall.
One of New York’s biggest problems, according to walking and bike advocates, is that the police department focuses far more resources on street crime than on street safety, even though 356 people were killed in traffic accidents last year (half of them pedestrians and bicyclists), compared to 333 murders. Advocates cheered when de Blasio chose as his police chief William Bratton, who has spoken out about the need to curb traffic injuries and deaths. As New York’s police chief in the 1990s, Bratton’s “Zero Tolerance” policies were widely credited for the dramatic decrease of violent crime and advocates hope for the same with unsafe driving.
“It’s really impressive what Mayor de Blasio has done,” explains Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives. “He has put his money where his mouth is” by finding funding for street safety projects and increased police enforcement in an era of tight budgets.
Streets of San Francisco & beyond
After New York, Vision Zero planning in the US is most advanced in San Francisco, which last year saw a near-record high of 25 pedestrian and bike fatalities. Walk San Francisco and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition recently launched the Vision ZeroCoalition with the San Francisco School District and more than two dozen community organizations. Their mission is to encourage city officials to:
• Fix dangerous intersections and streets;
• Ensure “full and fair enforcement of traffic laws,” with an emphasis on curbing dangerous behavior;
• Invest in training and education for all road users, focusing on helping frequent drivers share the road with walkers and bicyclists;
• Eliminate all traffic deaths in the city by 2024.
“Vision Zero is about changing the culture of our dangerous streets … .” Nicole Schneider of Walk San Francisco and Leah Shahum of the San Francisco Bicyle Coalition wrote recently. “Vision Zero is also about empowering historically underrepresented communities that are disproportionately burdened by traffic injuries and chronic disease.”
Part 2 of this post is called Twelve steps to cut pedestrian deaths
Jay Walljasper, author of the Great Neighborhood Book, writes, speaks and consults about how to create safer, sustainable, more enjoyable communities.
Reposted with permission of Better Cities Better Towns